Directed by: Seth MacFarlane
Released on: July 13th, 2012
Rating: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther
Way back in the 1980s there was a boy named John (Bretton Manley). John was so lonely not even Greenbaum (Max Harris), the Jewish kid frequently beaten by the ungentle gentile kids, would play with John.
Then one Christmas morning John receives a special gift: a teddy bear. John and the teddy bear do everything a boy and a teddy bear can do. But it is not enough. John wishes Ted could talk.
Low and behold the next morning Ted (voice by Zane Cowans) is a walking and talking Teddy Bear. John has a best friend, a sui generis Snuggles to call his own. The clever boy names the teddy bear Ted. As the world's first talking stuffed animal, for a few fleeing moments Ted becomes quite famous and proverbially belongs to the crowd, but Ted and John will always be "Thunder Brothers" for life.
Flash forward 27 years later. The scientific, military, and religious community, plus the rest of the world, have all accepted a talking teddy bear as just something that is a part of the world. (In the real world they would have torn him apart for answers.) A pop culture flash in the pan, today the beer-swishing, bong-banging, anti-Semitic, racist, sexist Ted (voice by Seth MacFarlane) is hanging out with his best buddy, John (Mark Wahlberg).
As inseparable as Ted and John have been all of these years, John has managed to develop a relationship with Lori (Mila Kunis), a — here we go, again — woman who is, for the most part, out of John's league. (Do women ever get tired of watching women in film settling for less in love?) Lori has showed a considerable amount of patience over the past four years, waiting for John to get his act together but, at the moments where the storyline in the film picks up, she has just about had enough of John and Ted. What are a man and his teddy buddy to do? Well, get high, get crazy, then serious, then crazy, then stupid, then drunk, then high, horny, cry, plea, deny, fail, reunite, save... until the predictable and hackneyed ending.
Written and directed by MacFarlane, the brilliant and very cynical creator behind Family Guy and many other television shows, Ted, like those shows, is full of, if not masturbatory, nods to pop culture — usually of the populist type. Nods to TV, blockbuster films, pop singers and the ilk are the themes MacFarlane's texts are mostly made of, and Ted takes the brow down with few efforts to enlighten his audiences. (The Søren Kierkegaard quote in the film does not fit, but what does a stoned, horny stuffed teddy bear without a penis know about philosophy?)
Some of these irreverent pop references are quite funny — such as a Bourne-inspired fighting scene in the hotel room; a Flash Gordon metanarrative; a Tiffany video "cameo"; and the film's own nod to its creator ("He thinks my voice sounds like that Peter Griffin"). For the most part, those are the funniest parts in the film — although I had to bite my tongue to stop laughing at Ted's impersonation of a trashy Boston woman having sex. MacFarlane knows American pop culture and, when at his best, he uses it in a critical way that is hilarious.
MacFarlane is also intelligent when it comes to American politics, but that does not show in Ted, unless you consider Ted a synecdoche for mind-numbing Americans, albeit of various ages, who are not adverse to disliking Mexicans, blaming dark skinned people for 9/11, making anti-Semitic jokes and treating women like sex objects. But Ted does not play Ted that way. Ted insults women and minorities and we are supposed to laugh. At least much of the audience at the screening I attended did laugh.
The film also sends quite a few mixed messages about gay men. On the one hand, Ted is a homophobe whose anti-GLBT jokes are supposed to be funny (they are not) and John's co-worker, Guy (Patrick Warburton), gets beat up at gay bars and yet he does not know why. But on the other hand, or eventually, Guy meets and falls in love with another man (Ryan Reynolds) and the film treats the relationship with respect.
Ted is definitely a mixed bag, a movie trying to reach the largest audience, even if that means lowering itself to a lower common denominator. Ted has its middle, low and lower moments. For every time I laughed until tears rolled down my face, there was another moment where I cringed.
In a way, Ted reminded me of Gasper Noé's Irreversible, but I have to stop here.